This post is written from the perspective of someone who has lived in the Northern Hemisphere their entire life, and as such refers to the holidays accordingly.
Building my religious calendar is an ongoing, neverending process. When I started out in NeoPaganism it was the 8 sabbats of the Wheel of the Year and all the full moons (theoretically; I was a very lazy neo-Wiccan). It was easy for me to adopt those 8 days as official holidays because I’d been observing solstices and equinoxes since I was a kid; Halloween was already my favourite holiday and my mom and I were known to leave food out for the dead on November 2nd; May Day, Groundhog Day, and BC Day (August 1st) were days I already knew intimately. The Wheel mapped perfectly onto my calendar already; these were already days I was celebrating or observing, but now there would be a religious element to them.
As it turns out it’s sort of hard to add a religious element from the wrong religion for you. NeoWicca is emphatically not for me, and the myth cycles around the Wheel I’d learned never worked for me. However, I still consider the 8 sabbats as part of my religious calendar — not because they make up the Wheel of the Year and I can’t fully shed Wiccan practice, but because they’ve always been a part of my calendar in some form or another. It’s just that now I’m changing the religious associations with them from what my Wicca 101 books said to what makes sense to me — and yes, sometimes there’s overlap.
Actually, in a way shedding NeoWicca helped me a great deal in actually being able to see the holidays as religious. I never really understood Imbolc until Brighid came into my life, and She wouldn’t show up while I was still in the NeoWiccan phase of my life. Halloween continued to be my favourite holiday, but I had trouble with Samhain, or the idea that it was the New Year. And the idea behind Beltane possibly intrigued me the most, as I was a horny teenager when I was involved in NeoWicca — but I never really understood that day, either. And Lughnasadh went right over my head.
My understanding of these days has changed and evolved, and for the better. I see the time between Samhain and the solstice as the quiet time before the end of the year, the start of the new one — the time to reflect, gather my energies, prepare. As a holiday associated with death and the thinning of the veil, it’s also clearly a time for me to honor my Father — He who takes those who have passed on to the next world. It’s also a time for me to cut away things that don’t belong, which makes it associated with tM as well.
Beltane, being the direct opposite of Samhain, is also associated with the thinning of the veil, but this time I don’t see it as leading to the land of the dead. Instead I see Beltane as a fairy holiday, and Who best to honor but the Fairy Queen, the Morrigan? Yes, there’s a lot of sexual energy tied up with Beltane for me, but that’s not all there is to it. Some Beltanes aren’t sexual at all for me; some are. It depends. Beltane is also May Day, which is a day of revolution against oppression, so those themes are important too.
Those two are the easiest — sex and death, death and sex. Those are forces I’ve never had trouble connecting to, understanding, or seeing how they intertwine.
Imbolc I have trouble putting into words, but I see it as the waking time after the reflection period between Samhain and the new year. January I prepare for waking — planning my year, slowly getting back into the groove, but February is when it’s time to go to work. Imbolc is a time of new beginnings; it’s the true start of my year in a way January 1 (or Hangover Day as I like to call it) isn’t. The end of the year comes for me between December 21st and 31st — ten days that I don’t consider as really being part of the year. The time before and after those days are important for me to draw within, and then go without.
Imbolc is also, locally, the time when there might possibly be the hint of spring at some point in the future, who knows, maybe, oh look a crocus! Oh wait the frost killed it. It is the beginning of spring in that it is when we really can start to see a life that’s not endless winter, which is hard to imagine in November, December, and January.
Beltaine, thus, remains the beginning of summer for me — which fits because of late, we’ve had some pretty hot Mays. May is also the start of the long weekend season here in BC (excepting Easter, which is all over the map), with our first chance to do some camping, barbecuing, or binge-drinking coming on Victoria Day weekend (which falls on the last Monday before May 25th).
June 21st is Midsummer, and another day for Manannan — but I haven’t quite figured all that out yet.
The next holiday is August 1st or 2nd, and it’s no longer Lughnasadh for me. I don’t work with Lugh; I’ve met Him in 2 different rituals, one at Witchcamp and one that I led at a pagan camp out. He’s a pretty cool guy, but He doesn’t get along with tM at ALL. Which, fine, not all my gods have to like each other, but there’s a level of deity-bickering and glaring I don’t want to deal with in my head.
So I had to come up with something different for that date. BC Day is the first Monday in August, which means very often the BC Day long weekend includes August 1st or 2nd, or close enough to make no-nevermind — hey, modern pagans sometimes gotta stretch things, right? This is the third time we get time off in summer, and it is at the beginning of August — a time when things start to get harvested. Mid to late August the blackberries ripen, and the Blackberry Festival is held on the main drag of Powell River.
I decided to call the August holiday Loafmass, and it is when I honor all of the Big 3. They each have Their own holiday (with tM horning in on Manannan’s a little, but He doesn’t seem to mind that much); now is the time to honor all 3 of Them. Now, I have yet to properly celebrate this day — there always seems to be a lot of time between my deciding a day is important, religiously, and actually attempting to do something on that day. However, I know it will involve bread, in some form (hence Loafmass).
The next holiday I celebrate is a secular one — Labour Day Weekend, ie Last Long Weekend before School. During my time in Hawai’i this weekend didn’t matter to me; we started school in the last week of August, so it no longer held the meaning it did when I lived in BC. When I moved back, however, and started university up here, it became important again: a time to recharge, rest, celebrate the last of summer, and prepare myself for a grueling semester. Now that I’m out of school, it just becomes an excuse to party, and is also the anniversary of my meeting the Ogre.
September 10 is Oma’s birthday, so that is an ancestor day for me. Her death has been too fresh for the past 5 years to do anything specific on that day for her, but that changes this year.
The fall equinox marks the beginning of my favourite time of year — True Fall. True Fall happens in BC from around mid-September to a few days into November. It is short, and it is beautiful. It is the time of pumpkin spice lattes and chilly days and scarves and tights and red/orange/yellow leaves everywhere and fire and that smell in the air and October, the best month, and horror movies on TV all month long and Halloween and all the ramping up to it. I look forward to True Fall all year, and it always passes way too quickly.
December marks a few main holidays for me. December 5th is Sinterklaas, or “Dutch Christmas”, which I celebrated with my mom and Oma in my childhood and now acknowledge with the Heilig Avondmaal, if I can do so. (My first Heilig Avondmaal I held on Solstice.) Solstice, or Longest Night, I hold a vigil for the sun to return. In past years I’ve done with with folks over at TC for the TC Up All Night celebration, but as I’m not on the forum anymore I’ll be doing it alone this year. Which is okay, because it gives me a chance to explore D’Angeline Recon, which I haven’t yet had. I think likely I will be going more Cassiline this year, but maybe someday I can hold a Midwinter Masque.
Winter Solstice used to include my mom and I attending a giant festival of fire and light on Granville Island, where we used to live. We’d make paper lanterns in the weeks leading up to the holiday, and then we’d all light our lanterns and watch the performance of fire dancers on the hill. It was amazing, and definitely helped guide me down the pagan path.
I also celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday, enjoying time with family and drinking myself sick on egg nog. For me, Christmas doesn’t truly end until January 6th, or Epiphany, and often I leave the tree up until late in the new year. Something I do around Christmas time if I’m feeling down, which happens, is I lie on my back on the floor with my head under the tree, letting the lights wash over me. Izzy, Meredith, and George are right — it really does make you feel better.
Up here Boxing Day is also a holiday, though it’s really Canadian Black Friday at this point. I like retail therapy sometimes, but I hate shopping on the 26th; I’ve already got anxiety issues with crowds of people and going to the mall on a huge sale day is my idea of hell. So often Ogre will go with his sister and brother-in-law and I’ll stay at home and chill. Eventually, I want to get more into the spirit of Boxing Day — the original spirit, that is — and take it as an opportunity to serve. I want to spend the 26th volunteering at a soup kitchen or delivering knitted goods to the homeless, or helping the less fortunate of Vancouver in some other way. I’ve had this nebulous idea for a bit, but no spoons to implement it. Hoping for a shipment of spoons soon.
The one holiday I continually have issues with is Vernal Equinox. This might have something to do with it usually falling on the birthday of my half-sister, with whom I have a strained relationship (as she remains the only of our bio-sire’s three daughters to remain in contact with him and have a father-daughter relationship with him, and can’t fathom why I’ve been so horrible to him and often tries to convince me to patch things up with him). I’m trying to find ways to celebrate it that make sense to me, if only to keep my calendar more or less even (celebrating all 4 fire festivals and 3 out of the 4 solstices/equinoxes feels super off to me, even if they’re not my only holidays).
At this point, that basically makes up my calendar and holidays. There are theoretically other holidays I haven’t mentioned here, of course, and I try to remember to mark Ancestor Days, but I admit I’m terrible at remembering them. I need to put up a piece of paper on the wall that just has all the days of the year that I need to remember, or something. OR TATTOO IT TO MY FACE